New York, Milan and Aurora?  The entrepreneur has plans to boost the region's fashion industry

New York, Milan and Aurora? The entrepreneur has plans to boost the region’s fashion industry

Paris. Milano. New York. Los Angeles: all the fashion hotspots. Could Aurora be a newcomer to the scene?

This is a serious question to Skye Barker Maa and Lisa Ramfjord Elstun. The women come from different backgrounds and experiences, but they met through their common passion for fashion. They are now building a business designed to help Colorado designers on the path to success.

The women hope Barker Maa’s small-batch manufacturing in Aurora will provide new and emerging local designers with the opportunity to grow their businesses and create full-time jobs for the professionals who sew the garments displayed on racks and catwalks.

The key is in the name: “Small Batch”. Designers can work with local seamstresses and tailors to get what they need without having to place a large order.

“You go to (Los Angeles) and they say, ‘Well, we don’t do less than 100. We don’t do less than 400.’ You can come to our house and we’ll literally do five,” Barker Maa said. “Creators don’t really know what’s going to sell and what isn’t. They really need small samples of what they’re doing to get their feet wet and be profitable.”

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Skye Barker Maa, designer and founder of design studio Factory Fashion, poses for a portrait outside her studio in Aurora on August 2, 2022.

Darlene Ritz is Creative Director and Founder of DCR Studios. The Denver designer is one of Small Batch Manufacturing’s first clients, working with them on clothes she plans to take to an event in Paris.

“I can’t produce the 500 pieces that I need to do production elsewhere,” Ritz said. “Working with a small batch manufacturer like Skye and Lisa gives me the opportunity to produce 50 pieces of a specific garment and see how well it sells.”

Ramfjord Elstun, founder of the Fashion Design Center of Denver and co-founder of the Denver Design Incubator, said the idea of ​​having a place that will produce small runs “has been around for a while.” Although there are professional sewers who work with designers in Colorado, Ramfjord Elston wants to expand the options for designers. And the consultant wants to help develop the skills of Barker Maa staff.

“That’s why I’m lingering here after I’ve put all the infrastructure in place,” Ramfjord Elstun said. “I want to raise the skill level of this group and teach sewing type skills so that we can be on the rack with designers from Paris and designers from Milan.

“It’s the technical skill of the person who sews the clothes that really brings the designer’s ideas to life,” she added.

From left to right Malik Phillips,...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

From left: Malik Phillips, Geli Hayes, Heidi Bowden, Karla Palma and Najibullah Dawrankhil are newly hired sewers and aspiring fashion designers who will work at Small Batch Manufacturing in Aurora, photographed August 2, 2022. The newly hired sewers will be working with local designers from Stratton Robe Co., Latin Fashion Week Colorado and DCR Studios to stitch their clothing lines.

Design a dream

The first five people hired to sew the clothes gathered for their second day on the job last week. For now, their studio is tucked away in part of a building that houses Factory Five Five, an arts organization created by Barker Maa.

After Labor Day, employees will move into a large space in nearby Stanley Market, where Barker Maa runs Factory Fashion, a design studio and sewing school.

Barker Maa, who has worked in politics, marketing and advertising, opened a music school in 2012. Last week, she announced the sale of the business, Neighborhood Music School, to streamline operations as she’s gearing up for the official launch of Small Batch Fabrication.

Barker Maa said one of his goals when starting the new company was to offer full-time jobs with benefits and the ability for employees to work on their own designs.

“There are concerns about how the sewers work, how they’re treated and the environment they’re in, because historically it hasn’t been good,” Barker Maa said.

Barker Maa and Ramfjord Elstun said they are committed to creating high quality products while promoting a fun workplace. They were willing to provide on-the-job training for talented newbies, but found people with varying experience.

One of the new workers is longtime tailor Najibullah Dawrankhil, an Afghan refugee who worked with the US military for several years in his home country. “It’s perfect,” Ramfjord Elstun said, holding up a shirt he made.

Dawrankhil is deaf and mute. His wife communicates with him through sign language and will be with him at work. The tailor signed with his wife, who told interpreter Binazira Arman that her husband was happy to work on many different styles and garments.

Small-batch manufacturing is a chance for Heidi Bowden to come back into fashion. After graduating in the field, she worked for the Colorado Ballet and more recently for a body armor company where she operated heavy-duty sewing machines.

“I learned a lot about Kevlar,” Bowden said.

People with similar backgrounds sew backpacks or canopies, Barker Maa said. “They are designers by trade and they want to sew and want to sew for other designers, but the jobs that were available were outdoor gear, car seats or mattresses.

“Being able to bring them back to what they really love doing in the industry makes sense,” added Barker Maa.

Without formal training or a degree, Angelica “Geli” Hayes struggled to find sewing jobs. She learns to sew on her own and designs pieces for two fashion shows.

“Skye is one of the first to just open her doors and be like, ‘Come as you are, come with what you know, and we’ll work it out,'” Hayes said.

The work with Small Batch will be Karla Palma’s first couture garment. Palma attended Colorado State University and has been sewing professionally for about six years while designing on the side.

“I love how diverse we all are and have different backgrounds,” Palma said. “It’s going to be really good, not just for us but for the company as a whole.”

Malik Phillips went through a kind of practice audition for the job. He got to know Ramfjord Elstun through a course he took at Factory Fashion. “I guess she saw my passion,” the 21-year-old said.

The staff is expected to continue to grow, with perhaps two more on board soon. The team has projects lined up and will be getting busier as the fall edition of Denver Fashion Week approaches, Nov. 12-20. Latin Fashion Week in Denver opens September 23.

“We’re the set-up team, making sure we can get the ball rolling and everything is in place before we start adding more to our family,” Bowden said.

Aspiring seamstresses and fashion designers Geli...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Aspiring seamstress and fashion designer Geli Hayes looks at some of the clothes she designed at Small Batch Manufacturing in Aurora on August 2, 2022.

Made in Colorado

In addition to giving independent designers more flexibility, Small Batch is more accessible, said Ritz of DCR Studios. She can visit the team about their parts and can see the working conditions firsthand.

“I insist on being sustainable and ethical. I don’t want my stuff produced in sweatshops,” Ritz said.

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